Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Process Mapping -- an Admin Process Improvement Strategy

Administrative processes have not only a sequence, but also a physical route through your business, as noted by a Chief Executive Boards International member during a recent meeting. He made those comments during a discussion on how much you can learn about your company by just stopping on occasion to look around.

He said he had been in the office for most of a day (unusual for him) and saw the person who scans documents into their electronic records system leave her desk and walk most of the way across the office to scan one of those documents. Then she did it again -- and again and again.

He finally stopped her and said, "Do you think it would work better if the scanner was on your desk instead of all the way across the office?" "Gee", she said, "Do you think we could move it?"

This seems like a simple, almost trivial observation, but it's not. I was taught this lesson years ago by Bob Gariepy, a GE-Trained guy who was once my VP of Manufacturing. Bob went into a poorly-performing plant and noticed that there was constant traffic in the aisleways, moving parts from one process to the next. A clever process analyst, he got a floor plan of the factory and had an engineer trace the physical movement of all the parts that went into a couple of products, then measure and add up all the distance traveled. For one product, it was almost seven thousand feet!

He then set about building manufacturing cells for high-volume products, putting all the necessary machines in a u-shaped cell where you could literally see the parts coming in on side and finished products in the boxes coming back out the other. One of the additional amazing benefits of manufacturing cells is the reduction of quality and rework problems. If you have a quality problem somewhere in a cell, you usually have only perhaps 8 or 10 total units in process, rather than a suddenly-discovered basket of 100 or 1000 defective parts that came from somewhere else in the factory. You stop, walk up the line, and find out what the problem is and what it will take to correct it before making dozens, hundreds or thousands of defective products.

If you apply this idea to your administrative processes, you'll find the same thing -- errors are caught more quickly, and items that would have slipped through the crack or gotten lost in a basket are out in plain sight for the next person in the workflow to notice.

Regardless of the nature of your business, take a look at this -- see if you can map the distance things travel in your business process. You'll be amazed -- as that distance stretches out, a lot of things degrade -- quality, productivity and throughput time are the usual victims. Consider moving things or people around to reduce travel distance of documents, information and products.

If you've done some process mapping and achieved some interesting results, please click Comments below and share those experiences with others.

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Terry Weaver

Chief Executive Boards International

Chief Executive Boards International: Freedom for business owners & CEOs -- Less Work, More Money, More Freedom to enjoy it

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